The Oklahoma City Thunder are staring at a daunting 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference semifinals after losing a tough Game 4 in overtime. Kevin Durant struggled down the stretch, which made it difficult for the Thunder to score.
The absence of Russell Westbrook couldn’t have been more evident in this contest. This was the type of game where his skills were severely needed.
Throughout the final quarter and the extra period of Game 4, Thunder players deferred to Durant and occasionally seemed afraid to shoot. Every single play revolved around getting the ball to Oklahoma City’s leading scorer and when that failed, so did the offense.
Tony Allen stuck to Durant like glue. For some reason, Scott Brooks repeatedly called for Derek Fisher to set a screen for the 6’11’’ forward on the block with the intent of freeing him up.
Allen would have none of it and consequently prevented any Durant catch in this set. OKC adjusted and had Kendrick Perkins — a hellacious screen setter — set picks on the Grizzlies’ primary perimeter defender.
The strategy freed up KD ever so slightly. He got open around the elbow area, but became incredibly crowded once he caught the ball. Mike Conley came crashing down from the perimeter, basically ignoring Reggie Jackson.
In addition, the man defending Perkins jumped out on Durant as well and essentially created a triangular prison (with Allen shading him as he recovered from the screen). From there Durant either had to shoot the mid-range jumper or pass the ball to open teammates that played the roles of reluctant shooters.
Instead, Durant shot the ball and missed. Often.
In the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 4, Durant was 2-of-13 shooting from the field. Part of that falls on his shoulders because of his shot selection. He had a few semi-contested looks he created himself but missed those as well.
Below is his shooting chart from the final period and overtime courtesy of NBA.com/stats:
His coaching staff coupled with his teammates failed him. At no point did the Thunder run an action for another player to create a high percentage shot. Durant was never used in a fashion where he could be the recipient of a pass for an open look from an aggressive teammate.
The team became far too enamored with watching him operate and attempt to beat one of the best defenses in the league by himself.
Last week, Bomani Jones made the statement on the Dan LeBatard show that Oklahoma City will only truly compete for a title the moment Kevin Durant walks into the office of Sam Presti and demands a coaching change.
Although that is a little harsh, there is something to be said on that front. The Grizzlies’ defense is smothering Durant and his coaching staff hasn’t adjusted. When Westbrook was present, he caught a lot of flak for adlibbing whenever the KD option portion of the playbook got bottled up.
But in actuality he gave the offense a different look whenever the team’s leading scorer was being taken out of the game by multiple defenders. With Westbrook out, that release valve is simply no longer available.
No one on the team is secure or talented enough to ignore Durant and create something out of nothing when they can’t effectively get him the ball.
Unless the Thunder figure this out, they will be watching the Western Conference finals at home.
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